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Opinions of Wednesday, 17 November 2004

Columnist: Annor, Joseph

Is there any agenda to make Asantehene the King of Ghana?

In recent times, many Ghanaians have said and (published a lot of articles) about Otumfour Osei Tutu 11, the King of Asantes. There is no doubt that some of these articles have (consciously or unconsciously) sought to criticise and demean the great king.

However, a critical analysis of the arguments of the critics demonstrates that their criticisms are destructive and based on sentiments, and that they merely tend to promote division in Ghana. These people destructively criticise the great king because the king has succeeded in where others failed (i.e. been able to attract investments funds for citizens of Ashanti and beyond). The critics out of jealousy and envy, have attributed Asantehene?s success to the fact that President Kuffour is an Ashanti, and that the President assists Asantehene to push through his (development) agenda to the detriment of other chiefs.

Some critics have particularly see Otumfour's success in receiving funding from the World Bank and a donation from a Saudi Arabian Prince as unheard of and abominable. The critics have therefore, suggested that President Kuffour is promoting tribalism and supremacy of Ashanti.

In relation to the World Bank's facility, the office of the King has explained that the King initiated his negotiation with the Bank during the regime of former President Rawlings; this should suffice to quell all speculations and criticisms, yet many continue to accuse the King and the President over the same matter. I also suggest that because Ashanti initial resisted the British attempt to colonise it and the fact that Ashanti confederation is the only major confederation still remaining in Ghana, Asante is better known in other parts of the world than any other Ghanaian tribe. In this regard, it is most likely that the Saudi Prince (a monarchist himself) would prefer to honour an invitation from Asantehene (whether the Prince was introduced to Asantehene by Kuffour or not), rather than an invitation from any other chief in Ghana. In this regard, had Otumfour not received the Prince's donation, no other chief in Ghana would have received the donation (or to that magnitude).

Further, whether the critics of Otumfour like it or not, it is a fact that who ever occupies the "Golden Stool" of Ashanti would undoubtedly, be the most prominent chief in Ghana. This is a fact that Otumfour's critics must accept and live with, rather than hurting themselves.

The unique and prominent status that Otumfour enjoys in the Ghanaian chieftaincy institution has some concomitant privileges that are usually not available to some other chiefs in Ghana (no matter, whoever is the President or Head of State in Ghana). In this regard, any progressive Asantehene like King Solomon of Asante (Osei Tutu 11) would undoubtedly, be able to use the privileges and influence he has to promote the welfare of Ashantis in particular and Ghanaians at large. Thus, both Ashantis and other Ghanaians have contributed to his educational fund. For instance, it was reported some time ago that an Ewe community in one U.S. city contributed to his fund. Yet, when Offinso chief went to Toronto, he complained that even Offinso citizens showed little interest in his presence (as most Ghanaian chiefs are not accorded Otumfour?s level of reception).

Historically, the prominence of Ashanti begun several centuries ago. Precisely, when King Osei Tutu 1, the founder of the Asante Kingdom was enthroned in 1680 (upon the death of his uncle Obiri Yeboah), he immediately sought to unite several places of the present day Ashanti and beyond through wars and diplomacy. With the spiritual and psychological support of Okomfour Anokye (who himself was not an Ashanti), it is believed that this great king by the end of his throne (death in 1717) had tripled the size of his kingdom.

The Golden Stool of Asante (that according to a legend was commanded from the sky by Okomfour Anokye) became the spiritual symbol of the kingdom. The Asante Empire lasted for more than two centuries and fought fiercely to prevent the British from extending its colonial rule (which had already begun in the coast) to Asante. The British had to fight Asantes several wars before eventually defeating Ashantis in the 4th or so war, when the British enlisted many forces from other West African countries to confront the Asantes.

Perhaps, the most important landmark of King Osei Tutu 1 was his vision to establish Kumasi as the capital of Ashanti. Kumasi has grown to become the second largest and most important city in Ghana. This garden city has contributed a lot to the national economy. All people throughout Ghana are living there and significantly, while there is Asante New Town (Ashtown) in Kumasi, there is also Awonaga, Fante Newtown, Zongo, Aboabo and Alaba (the last three are predominantly Zongo communities). This significantly demonstrates that Kumasi is not for only Asantes. Many people from all parts of Ghana have adopted Kumasi as their hometown. Thus, the Otumfour critics myopically fail to recognise that it is not only Ashantis who are living in Kumasi and that any development project pursued in Kumasi or Ashanti is directly or indirectly for the benefit of all of us.

Kumasi has contributed to easing Accra?s population pressure. In fact, it appears that apart from Accra (as a national capital) and Tema (as a major industrial and port city) that were established by the Ghanaian Government, there is no other city or regional capital apart from Kumasi that was specifically founded to become an administrative capital of a specific tribe or group of people. This shows how brilliant and intelligent that the 17th Century King Osei Tutu 1 was. Clearly, all other regional capitals were chosen by the Central (Ghanaian) Government to serve as the administrative capitals for the regions. Given the importance of Kumasi to all Ghanaians (as we all benefit from its existence in one way or the other), supposing Asantehene even secures World Bank credit facility and solely devotes it to Kumasi, what is wrong with that?

Certainly, the Asantehene Osei Tutu 11 whose throne name is adopted from Osei Tutu 1, is continuing with the vision that his great grand uncle had in the 17th century. This does not in any way demonstrate his desire to become the king of the whole Ghana, nor is any person promoting such an agenda, as the critics are erroneously propagating.

Perhaps, many have been taken aback by the King?s progressive activities because his predecessor (the late Nana Opoku Ware 11) did not do anything of that nature. In this regard, the critics are consciously or unconsciously using Nana Opoku Ware 11 as the benchmark for assessing the standards expected from King Osei Tutu 11. If that is the case, then I am afraid, the critics have got it wrong because the Asantehene (with his experience from living in Canada and the U.K) has raised the benchmark very high for all Ghanaian traditional chiefs (and therefore, using his influence and power to pursue developments).

In addition, Ashantis are the largest tribe in Ghana. This fact automatically places Ashantis in a very strategic position in Ghana. Whether you are in America or Africa, realistically, the largest groups will always play some prominent roles in the affairs of their nations (and that does not mean domination). In Australia, because of the state of New South Wales? population size and financial activities, it appears to be more influential than any other state.

Apart from the fact that Ashantis are the largest tribe, it is also true that Ashanti on the average, is one of the wealthiest (if not the wealthiest) tribe in Ghana. There are so many reasons that have caused many Ashantis to become wealthy. Some are historical; others are the geographical location of Ashanti and the aspiration of the Ashantis themselves. For instance, Ashanti region is tentatively located in the center of Ghana and endowed with natural resources such as Obuasi gold, timber, forest and so on and only few regions in Ghana can boast of equivalent resources. Clearly, all these create jobs for the inhabitants.

Further, the structure of the Ashanti chieftaincy system is such that it will always make Otumfour the most powerful king in Ghana. Throughout Ghana, Ashanti region is the only place where all the natives speak the same language or dialect. This significantly keeps Ashantis together as one people. Further, because of the Asante confederation, the Asantehene has more subjects than any other traditional chief.

In addition, the fact that some areas like Western Region recently held their home coming conference to discuss how to move the region forward should be seen as the flowing-on effect of the Asantehene's development initiatives. In fact, one Western Region or Central Region king (not very sure) reported sometime ago that he was the first to establish sometime like educational or development fund but received low participation interest from his subjects.

What critics should understand is that perhaps, the organisers of Western Region conference would wish the region had one unifying chief or personality like Otumfour to bring them together which will make things easier for them. However, what we should all hope for is that despite that no other region in Ghana has such a strong common unifying force like the Asantehene, they could still learn from the success of King Osei Tutu 11 and promote co-operation among themselves so that at least, they would be able to get something for themselves like what the Western Region is doing. Certainly, the critics of Asantehene should have focused their energies preaching these positivism that the King's vision has for the whole Ghana instead of focusing on negativity to unduly promote disunity.

Yes as an accountant, I have learnt a lot about SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for "strength, weakness, opportunity and threats". While certainly, the Asantehene has strength and opportunities that are not available to others, the other chiefs could still use their weak positions to develop opportunities and fight threats and promote development among their people. What do I mean? For instance, instead of people fighting over a throne, they can resolve all problems amicably and unite to promote the welfare of their subjects. In this regard, they are using their weaknesses, threat of wars and disputes to develop opportunities to advance the reason why the thrones are there in the first place. These is what critics should use their energies to focus on instead of unduly criticising the great king for the good works that his doing for both Asantes and Ghanaians.

I remember when Kuffour solicited Asantehene and other two prominent Northern chiefs to help traditionally to find solution to the Dogbon crisis, some people even saw tribalism in it. ?Hoboye?, this one two tribalism! What is wrong for Kuffour to include his own chief in that matter? Is it not that if you entrust a duty to your elder for the sake of you, he will do the job more diligently? In any case, those who care to know should understand that Asantes and Dogombas have long history of association (to write about it is beyond the scope of this paper).

One lawyer in particular, bitterly complained that when the chiefs were coming to Accra to see Kuffour, the Asantehene went first and saw Kuffour separately and that indicates tribalism. I wonder the basis of the lawyer?s reasoning. What he ignorantly did not realise is that Asantehene is a very busy chief and he could have some tight schedules which required him to see Kuffour earlier and the fact that geographically, Kumasi is located far away from the North. I would expect that people like lawyers would be able to make better analysis and reasoning and stop acting on motions. In any case, if I am right, the King married around that time. Perhaps, critics should understand that for an Asantehene (upon all tradition) to marry from Oda shows that he is not tribalistic and we should rather use the inter-tribal marriages by such high profile Ghanaians to build stronger relationship.

As a nation and people of diverse background, we should try to tolerate each other and not be quick to judge. As we speak different languages and so forth, we are bound to differ in some ways and some may be more prosperous. However, while the more prosperous tribes should not look down on the disadvantage ones, the less prosperous ones should also not see the successful ones as enemies because of their achievements. As I explained before, we can use our weaknesses to develop opportunities and fight threats.

Let us take for instance, the fact that all people of Northern descents enjoyed free education (at least, until I left Ghana in 1988 as I am not sure whether this has changed or not). Those Northerners who wanted to use that as opportunity made good use of it. Hence, Dr Hilla Liman became the President of Ghana and the current Vice President is from the North. Perhaps, without this opportunity, these people would not have come to that far. I know what I am talking about because I attended six form in Tamale. On the other hand, many southerners who because their parents were poor just dropped out from school, but if they had had a similar facility like the northern scholarship, they would be prominent people now. Similarly, some Northerners did not take advantage of the free education.

Despite what many people say about Ashantis, the fact is Ashantis in general are not tribalistic as many people think. Ashantis have indirectly or directly played an important role in the upbringing of some of the best-known names in the country. For instance, Mr Kofi Annan (who is a Fante by descent) is said to have grown up in Kumasi. Also, the late Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia (from B.A.) certainly grew up in Ashanti and in deed, attended middle school in Offinso at the same middle school that I happened to attend (Dentin Methodist Middle School). So, I understand Professor Adu Boahene (the 1992 NPP opposition leader) is from Eastern Region but adopted Asante Juabeng as his home time. Really, these people who made a lot of Ashanti friends did not find Asantes to be trabalistic. Dr Busia in particular was very close to Ashantis, and perhaps, if this mighty philosopher and sociologist saw Ashantis as trabalistic, he would not have developed such a strong link with Ashantis (given his sociological background). On the other hand, Ashantis (more than any other tribe) opposed General Kutu Acheampong and his UNIGOV, despite that he was an Ashanti. So I mean Ashantis are not trabalistic.

To conclude, the critics of Asantehene should understand that given that his throne (confederation) is better known throughout the world, the international donors would prefer to deal with him to the other chiefs (because he has broader power-base and more subjects). However, some of the other chiefs are availing themselves of the comparatively smaller advantage they have to sponsor development projects in their areas. For instance, some have reported that Okyehene and Dormaahene have significantly promoted the welfare of their citizens. So people should stop complaining about the success of the Asantehene and rather channel their energies to where they are better needed.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.